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To Company or Not to Company? 4 Differences Between Company and Independent School Summer intensives

Article by: Ina Nikolaeva

We all know that summer programs are an important annual step in every dancer’s life. In the months of January-May, students attend a flurry of auditions (as parents stare down the various tuition bills) in order to get into at least one intensive a year. Then comes the waiting period, as dancers nervously anticipate acceptance messages and scholarship announcements.

First of all, let’s review why summer intensives are such a big deal:

  • Exposure to new teachers, professional dancers, choreography

  • A novel viewpoint on the dancer’s strengths and areas that require improvement

  • Leaps of improvement in technique and stamina

  • Performance/Rehearsal opportunity

  • Potential for an apprenticeship for next year

So what are the differences between attending a summer intensive by a company school versus one from an independent school? Here are 4 things to consider before making the choice between the two.

1) Where are you right now and what’s the plan for next year?

If you are looking for an apprenticeship for next year, then a company-affiliated intensive is a good way to do a pseudo-audition, if you are in your top shape! It is important to keep in mind, however, that doing a summer intensive is not a definite “in” to the company. In reality, summer programs are associated with the schools associated with the company rather than the company itself. If you are graduating from your current place of instruction, the last thing you want is to get sucked into another school while looking for your first job. The intensive is still a good way to keep in shape, learn about the company and meet some people – you just need to be aware that while they are advertised almost as “job interviews” you are more likely to get offered a traineeship or a spot in the school, where you will continue to pay tuition and still not be guaranteed a place in the company.

If you have just scored a spot in the company, then their summer intensive is a GREAT opportunity to get to know the atmosphere of the place, stay fit and get ready for the upcoming season.

2) Attention versus exposure?

Smaller, independent ballet academies will generally have smaller class sizes. This setting allows instructors to be more attentive to each student and to provide individualized feedback. On the other hand, a summer intensive affiliated with a famous company can expose the dancer to bigger names in the industry, including directors, choreographers and others who may have a say during hiring season. However, less emphasis on improving the students’ techniques is given, and so if a dancer wants an apprenticeship, it is best to be in top performing shape by the time the dance intensive comes around. If you as a dancer are primarily looking to enrich your technique through a summer intensive, then perhaps the optimal setting for that would be with a familiar instructor who knows how your body works and what needs the most improvement. Finally, regardless of affiliations, it is important to find an intensive that allows the dancer to gain more performance experience!

3) One company or many?

If you have your heart set on a company, then go for it! It is best to attend several summer programs with that company and its school as possible. (Please keep in mind a Plan B though!) In contrast, if you are fuzzy on where to audition, the instructors from an independent school can provide constructive advice on which companies best suit your style, technique, personality, and yes, body-type. This information is crucial when selecting where to audition or what to work on. Something else to keep in mind – independent ballet school intensives can offer a wide range of guest teachers from a selection of companies, who are a great source of information on the groups they dance with.

Another thing to keep in mind is the WOW! factor. If you have a company you know you want to dance for, attending their intensive every year might be good. But imagine you are there one summer, miss the next (working hard to improve your technique, of course) and come back the year after that, now dancing at a whole new level! This strategy can get you noticed quite a bit more.

4) $$$

While there is no hard-written rule that company-affiliated schools charge more for summer intensives than independent schools, you can bet that those tied to top companies (Think ABT, San Francisco Ballet, etc) will definitely make a larger dent in the family savings. After all, a call needs to be made – with all the benefits a small, local ballet conservatory can provide in a summer intensive, do you necessarily need nearly $3000 (or more) of tuition alone, plus room/board, to attend a big-time company-affiliated intensive every year?

With that, we would like to wish the best of luck to everyone in their summer programs this year!

- Ina Nikolaeva

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